Sunday, February 12, 2012

Susan G, Komen Organization's Experience Is the Devil In the Details (for Us and Not Just Komen)

Politics aside, for the sake of our discussion about nonprofit best practices and the 'why' in 'why do nonprofits choose to practice them' is helpful, so we are taking a cursory look at the recent Susan G. Komen happenstance and where that now leaves the agency what they can do to fix their public image.  The mission statement, as Shakespeare might have written (sorry, William, for my liberties here) , is "the thing".  When a nonprofit that has not taken any political stands before is perceived as having done so by the public (and that public is either for or not in agreement about that particular political stance) harm has indeed been done to the organization's brand (and its ability to raise all kinds of support).  In looking at Komen's situation we begin to understanding how nonprofits best operate effectively, efficiently, professionally ensuring their own longevity and thereby ensuring that their mission's goals get delivered to the beneficiaries of the organization's work.

If I were to go into Susan G. Komen's offices, after their harm to their own brand, I would advise them of the following (based on what is commonly known as per only what has been generally reported by the media)...

Mission drift, at a minimum, occurred.  When an organization's leadership, in any of its decision making for the organization, over-reaches or altogether forgoes the agency's mission and the goals of that mission - mission drift is most likely happening.  The number one way to get an organization back on track is for any one (or more) of the nonprofit's leaders to simply recognize and acknowledge the mission drift has happened.  This is the first step to getting the ship righted.

What Susan G. Komen did (politics aside) when they decided to pull previously awarded funding from a nonprofit that (whether one agrees with it being a controversial organization or not) is indeed a flash point, in political discussions, and Komen only pulled funding from that organization (and that news broke publicly) then Komen's leadership put the entire Komen organization name, mission, reputation, and goals out to walk a very fine line.

In their 2010 tax filing to the IRS (for fiscal year 2010), as required, Komen reported their mission statement as: "Nancy G. Brinker promised her sister that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. That promise is now Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, the global leader of the breast cancer movement, having invested more than $1.9 billion since inception in 1982. As the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, we’re working together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® and the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure®, and generous contributions from our partners, sponsors and fellow supporters, we have become the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world."  [As an aside, I might also advise Komen, if I were to meet with their leaders that their mission statement needs to be tightened up (less words - more meaning on point)].

The meat or on point portion of that huge mission statement is actually the short phrase: "... we’re working together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures."  Nowhere in the entire (long) mission statement but especially not in the crux of it (this phrase I've highlighted, here) does it say anything about funding or not funding based on whether a potential Komen grant recipient organization is under investigation (which has been repeatedly stated in ensuing media reports as the reason that Komen initially pulled the grant that they promised Planned Parenthood).  In fact, the mission only says (we'll look at verbs) "empower people", "ensure quality care for all", and "energize since to find the cures".  Again, I'd advise Komen that they need to clarify, better specify, and hone down this mission statement - but it is what it is.

Though this specific instance is now reversed, Komen said that the board had create a new policy and this new policy (not funding organizations under investigation) is what ruled Planned Parenthood's promised grant out (and while Planned Parenthood will receive its promised grant, now, it is right now not clear if Planned Parenthood will receive any other Komen grants in the future - but Komen is the grant donor and it has the right to develop whatever policies (again, politics aside) that is in line with Komen's mission and it's goals that they deem necessary to best carry out that mission).

Policies must also (like any and all decision making that an organization's leadership makes) be in line with the organization's mission, its goals, and the current needs of the organization's beneficiaries (of course, in Komen's case, women with breast cancer).  After looking at their mission (above) I am not sure how not funding potential Komen recipient organizations under investigation fulfills the Komen mission statement, but for the sake of the lesson, here, let's just give Komen the benefit of the doubt and say that yes, that policy is in line with Komen's mission (again, politics aside for this discussion).

Here's the thing: if any nonprofit's leadership makes decisions (popular or not) that are not clearly in line with (or are not explained in the media within the context of) the nonprofit's mission statement then current and potential new donors, community partners, volunteers, and other kinds of supporters will not be clear about what the intention and goals of the organization are, anymore (because evidently the organization's leadership is not).

This gets back to my point, above, about Komen making a policy decision that only needs to appear political to the public (whether meaning to or not and whether indifferent to, for, or against Planned Parenthood's breast exams program (specifically what the Komen grant will fund - which is in direct line with Komen's mission statement)) - Komen has entered a heretofore uncharted area.  This is where and how Komen has done damage to its own brand.

You see, like when you donate to any nonprofit, anyone who volunteers with, donates to, or any other separate nonprofit that partners with Komen (or has in the past) will now at least stop and think before they do so again.  They may decide to give again, volunteer again, and continue to partner with Komen on community projects - but the point is that they will stop and consider whether they should.  Some will not.  That kind of loss, called attrition, is difficult at best (especially in this economy) even for enormous nonprofit operations that, in at least 2010 (the most recent year we have on record for them), operated at nearly $345 million.   This is why I say that damage has been done.  Komen will feel some loss of support across its volunteer program, its donations receipts, and among which community partners stay or go.  It has some public relations, marketing, and outreach work to do, now, to clarify where it stands on its mission statement.

Mission statements aren't just 'annoying blah, blah, blah' only good for internal marketing posters tacked up over every kitchenette in the nonprofit's office, for the volunteers and staff to read.  They are actually clear statements that (should) explain what the organization does, for whom or what, why, how (and even where, and when) for everyone working for and with the nonprofit, and everyone in the community volunteering with, donating to, and partnering with that nonprofit.  When a mission statement has really been worked on to become a powerful ally in the organization's ability to serve the beneficiaries, it is the organization's strongest point in any and all of its support-raising work.  You see, the reason that anyone supports but then supports again any one nonprofit is because they not only believe in the cause and the organization's effort to champion the cause - they believe in the organization's efforts and their potential to continue to be effective at doing the work of their mission statement.  If for any reason the public begins to question an organization's motivations (or more rightly the motivations of the leadership of that organization) it puts into question the confidence the supporter had in the organization's commitment to its mission's goal.  People begin to wonder 'well, if I donate to them, are they doing with my dollar what they say they exist to do - or are they motivated by something else that is who knows what?'   In the end, a mission statement is a bond between an organization and its beneficiaries but also between an organization and the community in which it does its work and raises all of its support.  That bond is invaluable to all three entities: the organization, its beneficiaries, and the community at large.  Once, though, that bond is questioned beneficiaries can lose as the organization may get less support (thereby affecting those needing the help the most).

That is the greatest shame, here.  The women who have breast cancer and those who love them have actually lost at least a bit because of Komen's controversy and its public fall out.  This is something that will have to be fixed.

Update 3/28/12: See the article Komen's Brand Equity Plummets According to Harris Poll: What Other Changes Are Afoot?

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